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Ineffectual Anti-Drug PSAs

Television, Misc | By The Top 13 on May 10, 2010

Anti-drug public service announcements first routinely hit the airwaves in the 1970s. They exploded in popularity during the Reagan administration, when First Lady Nancy Reagan made drug prevention one of her top priorities in the early 1980s, introducing one of the most memorable anti-drug slogans of all time with "Just Say No." And while keeping kids off of drugs is nothing if not a noble goal, many of the PSAs intended to do that wildly missed the mark. Some studies have even suggested that these PSAs actually increase teen drug usage. Here are the Top 13 Ineffectual Anti-Drug PSAs.

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I Learned it By Watching You

1

I Learned it By Watching You

1987

This iconic 1980s public service announcement is one of the best known of the many anti-drug ads produced by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which was founded in the mid-1980s by a group of like-minded advertising executives. The PSA features a dopey dad who confronts his son with a box of marijuana found in the kid's room and demands to know how he learned how to use drugs. "You, alright," the son snaps back before uttering the line that still brings the laughs today: "I learned it by watching you."

Don't Even Try It

2

Don't Even Try It

1992

It's really hard to take Pee-wee Herman seriously as a role model, particularly after Paul Reubens' 1991 arrest for masturbating in an adult movie theater. But out of that arrest came this truly bizarre anti-drug PSA in which Herman - under a spotlight in a dark room - introduces the viewer to crack cocaine and warns against using it. Less than a decade later, Reubens was starring along side Johnny Depp in the film Blow as the coke dealer Derek Foreal.

I'm Not Chicken; You're a Turkey

3

I'm Not Chicken; You're a Turkey

1991

Another spot from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, this PSA features some of the best catchphrases on this Top 13. When little Joey rebuffs a pushy 13-year-old pot dealer by his locker, the dealer mocks him, calling him a chicken. Joey's snappy retort: "I'm not a chicken, you're a turkey." As if that's not enough, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles then deliver this message: "He's right. Drug dealers are dorks. Don't even talk to them." Cowabunga, dude.

Hanna-Barbera Zombie Door

4

Hanna-Barbera Zombie Door

1970

From the moment this PSA begins with an animated match magically lighting itself and then a joint, it just seems like a mixed message. Sure, the spot created by Hanna-Barbera - one of America's most influential animation studios - is supposed to be anti-drug. But from there, it just gets trippier and trippier, with rainbows, trails, and walking pills who lead our young dope smoker to the eerie "zombie door." It's almost as if the producers of this spot were told to make a PSA in favor of drug use.

The Messenger

5

The Messenger

2002

Shortly after the 9/11 terror attacks, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy launched a pricey taxpayer-funded anti-drug campaign based on the premise that when users buy drugs, they're supporting terrorists. In this spot, a creepy little girl straight out of The Sixth Sense appears in a woman's apartment and tells her "you killed me ... there was a bomb ... you bought drugs ... gave them money." The White House drug czar quietly killed the campaign after studies showed the ads actually fostered pro-drug beliefs among teens.

Drugs! Drugs! Drugs!

6

Drugs! Drugs! Drugs!

1990

It's hard to imagine that this anti-drug PSA - paid for in part by the Canadian government - had the intended effect on its viewers. While the purpose of the silly rap and refrain, which is sung by a chorus of kids, is to remind kids about the difference between drugs provided by their doctors and illegal drugs, the message gets lost in the refrain. "Drugs, drugs, drugs," the chorus of kids sings repeatedly. Sounds like just what the doctor ordered.

The Snake

7

The Snake

1986

Intended to be among the scarier anti-drug PSAs, this one features a slick drug dealer - clad in jeans and a leather jacket - peddling drugs in the middle of a busy urban neighborhood when he starts talking game to the camera. As he tells you how drugs will make you "steal from your mama, lie, cheat on your homeboys," he begins a horrific transformation that ends with him emerging out of the shadows as a talking snake who hisses at the camera. Spooky.

McGruff: Users Are Losers

8

McGruff: Users Are Losers

1985

While most people probably remember McGruff the Crime Dog's more famous catch phrase, "take a bite out of crime," the anthropomorphic cartoon bloodhound offers a different message in this silly PSA. McGruff, created by the Ad Council and the National Crime Prevention Council in the early 1980s, is joined by a rapidly growing mob of children as he inexplicably plays piano and sings the catchy "users are losers" in a leafy suburban backyard.

Talking Dog

9

Talking Dog

2007

Co-produced by the two worst offenders on this list - the Partnership for a Drug-Free America and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy - it's hard to know what the creators of this PSA were thinking. They couldn't really have thought that they'd be scaring kids away from smoking weed by suggesting that you can talk to your dog when you get high, particularly when the dog is as adorable as Lindsey's lecturing pooch in this spot.

Your Brain on Drugs: The Sequel

10

Your Brain on Drugs: The Sequel

1998

The sequel to perhaps the most famous anti-drug PSA of all time, this one stars up-and-coming actress Rachael Leigh Cook and ups the ante on the classic original. The spot begins as the original did with a comparison between an egg and your brain. But in explaining the consequences of snorting heroin, an intense Cook freaks out and destroys the kitchen with a frying pan (which represents heroin), likening the resulting damage to the effects of heroin on your body, friends, job, and family. Lesson? If you're going to take heroin, don't snort it.

The Empty Swimming Pool

11

The Empty Swimming Pool

1989

Another puzzler from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, this PSA starts out by reminding teenagers of just how much everyone else is enjoying drugs. "Doing drugs is like being on top of the world," the narrator explains as a teenager climbs a ladder to the highest diving board. "Everyone seems to be having one dandy ole time." By the time the pretty girl dives into an empty pool, the only message we hear is make sure the pool is full before you jump.

Why Do You Think They Call It Dope?

12

Why Do You Think They Call It Dope?

Early 1980s

There's nothing more stereotypical than a drug dealer pushing his wares on the playground. Yet that's exactly the premise of this PSA, which begins with a magician in a black suit calling: "Hey kiddies, gather around, the man with the goodies is here." He then uses sleight of hand and some silly rhymes to introduces the very young children to drugs such as amphetamines, LSD, and marijuana, all the while sparring with a smart aleck ten-year-old who argues that "everything you got there can hurt you, can't it?"

Drug Abuse Is the New Slavery

13

Drug Abuse Is the New Slavery

1989

Yet another ad from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, this spot was part of a campaign aimed specifically at African-Americans. The PSA shows Africans being shackled and shipped to slavery in America and warns: "Don't dishonor them by becoming a slave to heroin, cocaine, and crack. Drug abuse is the new slavery." The unnecessary comparison of forced slavery to drug use struck just a few people as a bit racially insensitive.

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Comments Leave a comment

stillathreat ★★

I could watch that animated zombie door psa all day long.

10:27 AM   May 10, 2010

jason ★★

Drugs! Drugs! Drugs! is like something straight out of a sketch comedy show. It and Zombie Door seem like they were made as jokes.

3:06 PM   May 10, 2010

johndoeaa 

I once had a girl smash up my kitchen with a frying pan.

She was the one on drugs, though.

9:40 PM   May 12, 2010

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